Educators share success of dual-language program with others

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon May 16 16:04:18 UTC 2005

>>From The [South Padre Island, Texas] Valley Morning Star

Educators share success of dual-language program with others

Joe Hermosa / Valley Morning Star

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND Even though Felis Arrambide and her husband spoke both
English and Spanish at home, they taught their son Joseph Spanish as his
primary language. Joseph, now 13, spoke only Spanish when he started
elementary school, which could have made him fall behind in the curriculum
that English-speaking kindergartners are taught.

But in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district, Joseph was able to learn
at the same pace as other district students in the dual-language program.
"I am glad I was in the program," the Liberty Memorial eighth-grader said.
"The other Spanish-speaking students that started the same time I did can
speak Spanish but they never learned to read or write in Spanish."

About 12 schools in the Region One Education Service Center Area, which
covers seven counties including the Rio Grande Valley, use the Two-Way
Bilingual program that has replaced programs designed to teach Spanish
speaking students English. The Two-Way Bilingual Program starts
Spanish-speaking students in kindergarten in a curriculum that is taught
90 percent in Spanish and 10 percent in English.

"With the 90/10 ratio model, students will, instead of trying to be caught
up learning English, learn the same curriculum any other student is taught
only in Spanish," Virginia P. Collier, a professor at George Mason
University, said. "Teaching them in Spanish rather than making the
curriculum easier at such an early age, like transitional language
programs do, will slow the student learning down. "By trying to teach a
student English first, schools are actually creating the learning gap
rather than trying to close it."

Two-Way Bilingual education is replacing what Collier calls "Transitional
Bilingual education." TBEs usually use a separate classroom for the
Spanish-speaking students with the primary goal of teaching English. After
two to three years in the TBE, students are integrated in classrooms with
native-English speakers for half a day. Collier said that other
transitional language programs spend more time replacing Spanish with
English, resulting in less time spent on other subjects. Ultimately, the
children fall behind their classmates in English-only classes.

Collier and Wayne Thomas, a professor at GMU, presented research on the
program at the Two-Way Bilingual Education Symposium May 5-6 at South
Padre Convention Centre. "Keeping a student at grade level in their
primary language is especially necessary for students coming from Mexico
who may not, and usually dont have, as good an education as they could get
here," Collier said.

In the classroom, a teacher divides lessons that will be taught in English
from those that will be taught in Spanish, Collier said. "One rule of
thumb is they should never translate a lesson. Having a mix of both
English-only and Spanish-only speakers will help the students mentor each
other." Collier recommended to teachers in her presentation to not only
teach English through language arts lessons.

"Instead teach a science or math lesson in English," she said. "This is a
great way for them to learn the language in another way." Besides closing
the learning gap, Connie Guerra, director of the Bilingual/ESL programs at
Region One, said dual language programs also close the culture gap.

"A lot of times the little Guerras in schools grow up with out knowing
Spanish and lose a lot of their heritage," Guerra said. "Also Abuelita
Guerra only knows Spanish, so they cant even talk to their grandparents or
aunts and uncles."

Guerra said the objective of the program is to also give students a chance
to speak fluently in both languages. "I want students to be able to talk
to anyone and say the same thing in English and Spanish," she said. "These
students will be a valuable resource in not only the Rio Grande Valley but
all over. If you look at the newspaper and see the want ads, they say
bilingual preferred or bilingual necessary."

Josephs school district, PSJA, was one of the first in the Valley to use
the dual-language program. Ramirez Elementary Principal Connie Casas said
she started researching the dual-language method 15 years ago when she was
still a teacher. "When I became principal, I decided to use this program
with my students,"  she said. "It has been great and has produced a lot of
improvement. The lowest score we had on (standardized tests) was 87
percent in that class."


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